A little girl, sitting at a table in a restaurant with her family. She’s playing on an iPhone, disengaged from the rest of her family. Her parents are on their phones too, off and on, disengaged from their kids.
It’s evening. The family sits down for dinner. The phone buzzes, Mom leaves the conversation to respond to a text. Dad’s there – but he’s not there. He’s thinking about work. Dinner’s over and Dad gets on his computer to just check a couple emails, just do a few more things.
Everyone else goes to their separate places, each with their device of choice. Surfing the internet, browsing Facebook, playing video games. Everyone is together, but they’re alone. They are there, but they’re not there.
Often they may not even sit down for dinner. Maybe Mom or Dad is late getting home, and the kids are off in some activity or sport. There’s no family dinner, you get it on the go. By the time everyone gets home, the kids need to finish homework, and get to bed. Mom and Dad do their own things, the TV goes on. One falls asleep early, the other works late. One is on the iPad, the other is on their phone, flipping and swiping through the events of the day.
All too often, this is family night in the 21st century.
Others have it much worse. Mom and/or Dad may simply not be around. The kids are left alone, having to fend for themselves and fill the void they have in their hearts with something else. Maybe anger and resentment abound resulting in hostility aimed at each other. Maybe there’s yelling, maybe there’s verbal abuse. Or worse.
Too frequently, a typical night at home.
This is a far cry from the Family we celebrate today – the Holy Family. They set the bar. They are the model. The readings today set the foundation for how we should act towards each other in our homes – our parents, our kids, and to our spouses. It says in the second reading today from Colossians,
Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another…
This is the blue print for how we need to act towards each other, especially our families. It’s so easy in words, but so tough to live sometimes. So often, we’re caught up in ourselves and our own selfish desires. We don’t respect our parents, and we do what makes us happy, even if it is at their expense. All too frequently, we put too much pressure on our kids to “succeed”, but we forget what the true measure of success is, and then we don’t spend the time with them to get them there. All to often we do provoke them, which leads to the discouragement that Paul warns about today.
And then our spouses. Being married is such a wonderful thing, and the Sacrament of Marriage is such a great funnel of God’s grace. But at the same time, it can be so tough. There are ups and downs. Good seasons and bad seasons. But any anger, resentment and bitterness we hold onto and release just makes it so much harder to have a good marriage and to encounter that grace.
I go back to the World Meeting of Families in September, and I remember a question Pope Francis asked of us during his homily at Mass on Ben Franklin Parkway. He said that he would leave us with one final question – “How do we talk to one another? Do we yell? Do we scream? Or do we talk?”
Do we treat each other with a certain level of love and respect that we deserve? Do we treat each other how we would treat God? Do we treat each other how God would treat us?” Most often, the answer is no. And so often in today’s world, it’s not about what we say, and how we say it. It’s about what we don’t say. It’s about us being there, but not being there. Not being engaged because we’re too consumed with something else, be it electronics, our careers, or the countless activities and desires that we let distract us from having that family time.
And if we don’t have time for our families, and can’t put things aside for just a little bit every night to have some quality family time, how in the world are we going to find time for God? If our families take the back seat so frequently, God is often in the trunk.
And if we cannot find the time for God – saying a prayer before meals, reading some scripture instead of watching TV, or spending time with and listening to God in Adoration rather than thumbing through the internet and social media on our phones – then how can we expect to ever approach the type of family unit that was lived to perfection by Jesus, Mary and Joseph?
How can we ever expect to find God, and hear His will for us if we can’t take a few minutes away from our busy schedule to pray and do some silent contemplation? How can we expect our kids to turn to Christ in times of struggle, doubt, and concern, rather than to drugs, sex, or something else if we can’t be that example and show them the way? How can we expect our kids to respect us as parents, if we as spouses don’t show each other love and respect?
In this fast-paced world, how can we expect our kids to slow down and seek God’s will in their decisions if we don’t slow down ourselves? How can we expect our kids to be there for us later in life if we aren’t there for them?
We’ve got to unplug…
Don’t get me wrong. I love technology. I am a technology and sci-fi geek, and I make a living by developing software, and I use the internet and social media as a forum to express my thoughts and reflect on God’s Word. But everything has its place. And we don’t just need to unplug from technology, but we have to unplug from the world from time to time. The world is tough and it’s fast paced, and so we have to “unplug” from it as well. Unplugging from the troubles, anxieties, politics, and other issues. Everything needs balance. And many times, our families and our homes are out of balance because we as families cannot unplug from the world.
Again and again, we’re like Mary and Joseph in those 3 days where they couldn’t find Jesus. We’re living in perpetual fear and anxiety. We’re living in that constant, fast-paced spiral where things seem out of control in our lives and homes. We’re there, but we’re not there because our heads are somewhere else. And we’re looking for that normalcy, that calm, that redirection to get us back on track, but like Mary and Joseph those 3 days, we keep looking in all the wrong places.
And so Jesus asks us the same question that He asked in response to His Mother asking Him where He had been, and that she and Joseph had been filled with great anxiety. Jesus replied,
“Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
This is what Jesus says to us, when we ask where He is, when we seek a better family life, when we want better for our kids, and when we desire a better marriage.
We know where to go. We just need to go to our Father’s house. We need to unplug, and spend time with God, personally, with our spouse, and as a family.
Spending time in prayer before everyone leaves in the morning. Saying a family rosary at night. Praying before meals. Reading and reflecting on scripture together. Going to Confession together. Going to a daily Mass with your spouse. Spending an hour a week in Adoration as a family.
Talking about our days at the dinner table. Spending time with our parents, and siblings over the holidays. Seeking God to help us let go of those anxieties and those things that cause worry, leaving tomorrow’s problems for tomorrow. Getting off the phone, and the computer, and the TV and reading a story to your child, or just listening to your spouse.
Sitting in silence, listing to God.
Technology is great, and it can be very helpful, but we’ve got to unplug from time to time. A little bit every day. We must embrace our time together with the ones we love, and not see it through a screen, or distracted with a device in hand.
When we embrace our family, we embrace God. When we make time for our family, we make time for God. When we respect our family, we respect God. And when we as a family make time for God, we as a family grow in wisdom and faith and leave the fear, anxiety and isolation behind.
And we find Jesus, just as Mary and Joseph did.